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RNC 2016 Day One Evening

So. I didn’t watch much of the RNC show last night; I was in rehearsal (about which perhaps more later) and only got home in time for the Network Hour. I stayed up later than I intended to, listening to speeches, and I can’t say it was a good idea. Still and all, I find myself with a few Things to Say about the evening.

First of all, before talking about any of it, I want to reiterate that I don’t think that a good convention or a bad convention makes a whole hell of a lot of difference in the outcome of the election in November. I’m not sure having a good or bad summer does. Most of us who will vote have already made up our minds (even if we aren’t yet willing to admit it in polls and surveys); most of the rest aren’t paying attention. Political scientists haven’t really been able to describe accurately the mental processes of people who make up their minds late in a Presidential election and vote, but I imagine that person dislikes politics, doesn’t enjoy reading or listening to political news, doesn’t enjoy thinking about politics, and yet feels a sort of responsibility to engage in the system at least as far as voting. I suspect that person listens to or watches a news broadcast a couple of times a week, largely because they feel they should, and then feels depressed about it all. They may watch the acceptance speeches of the two candidates, or more likely clips of them on those news broadcasts, but they won’t watch a week’s worth (much less two weeks’ worth) of political speeches, even the hour a night the networks carry. The conventions are important for a few reasons that have nothing really to do with this November’s election, and for some that do, but only the candidates’ own speeches are persuasive at all. So if I say that someone gave a good or a bad speech, or that an evening (much less an afternoon) went well or poorly, I don’t mean that it will sway the course of the election. Or even nudge it. I care about these things, and I judge them, and I could probably come up with some good arguments why, but I don’t imagine that this or that thing will lose the election for the Party. OK? All of which, I know, makes the point that you shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this note (or indeed any of the rest of the Tohu Bohu at all) but still, if you do read it, I want you to know what I mean.

Second, I thought the afternoon went quite well. Yes, there was a floor demonstration, and yes, they probably could have handled it better, but it was brief and there wasn’t even any photogenic scuffling. All of the articles describing chaos and insurrection were overblown and probably largely written beforehand. One good example is Noah Rothman’s The Foolishness of the RNC, which mixes good reporting and accurate analysis (imao) with overblown hype. It was barely a thing. In the meantime, there were twenty speeches, all of them saying all the things they were supposed to. It went well.

The other thing I want to say about the afternoon is that I quite enjoyed it. I don’t agree with their Party about what policies they want to put in place—to some extent, I don’t agree with some of their goals, and when I do share their goals I generally think their policies are not the right ones to get there. Still and all, I love that they are working to improve the country and I love that they care so much. I love political speeches, and I love political crowds. I love the way they are spotlighting women and nonwhite people in their Party. I watched the afternoon session and what I largely felt was a sort of affectionate hope. And exasperation, yes, and a certain defensive snarkiness, too. But at the end of the session, I felt pretty good about the idea of watching the next afternoon’s session.

Not so much the evening.

I got into the car to go home and turned on the radio in time to catch most of David Clarke’s speech. It wasn’t fun. Sherriff Clarke talked about how unsafe we all feel, every day, in our homes and on our streets…but I don’t! Crime is down, my town is safe, when I go into crime-ridden Hartford I feel safe because I am conspicuously unlikely to be assaulted. The fact—and it is a fact—that many black men in this country are terrified of being assaulted or killed by law enforcement officers has nothing to do with rising crime rates or anyone’s likelihood of being assaulted or killed by anyone else. And in fact, law enforcement officers don’t have, statistically, a hugely dangerous job, and are less rather than more likely to be killed in the course of their duties than they were a generation ago. As are we all, in the course of our lives, actually. And to accuse the Occupy and the Black Lives Matter movements of being the cause of a collapse of the social order, of being anarchists was outrageous. And the emphasis on not just the importance but the primacy of the rule of law, in that context, felt threatening to me. I did not feel, listening to Sherriff Clarke, as if he was part of the same immense political project as My Party, just advocating different goals and policies. I felt threatened.

Then, and this probably counts as a Digression, the NPR/PBS guys didn’t carry the next two speeches, but blathered on and on with analysis (or “analysis— as it was utterly devoid of any attempt to analyse anything) and nonsense for twenty minutes. So I didn’t catch the next couple of speeches. When I watch the conventions, I always do so from the Party’s website itself; no interruptions, no commercials, no interviews, no analysis, just the camera on the podium and occasional shots of the crowd in goofy hats. The RNC has an app for that, unsurprisingly, but also a YouTube channel. Use it. C-Span is also your friend, I imagine. End Digression.

So after missing a bit, the next thing that I really caught was Rudy Giuliani’s speech. Which was horrific to listen to. He began with thanking law enforcement officers, which of course I don’t object to, but in a triumphalist way by denying outright that there was any race-related problems with law enforcement officers at all. “When they come to save your life, they don’t ask if you are black or white, they just come to save you!” Is there another way to read this than outright denial that policemen have killed people? Well, perhaps, as he then said: “We reach out our arms with understanding and compassion, to those who have lost loved ones because of police shootings, some justified, some unjustified. Those that are unjustified must be punished; those that are justified, we must apologize to.” For what? For ascertaining whether there was justification? And then: “What happened to ‘there’s no black America, no white America, there is just America? What happened to it? Where did it go? How has it blown away?’” Here’s your answer: it has never been. Never. There has never been one America. Yet. That is our hope, yes, but there was no time in American history when law-abiding black men were not afraid of the police; there was no time in American history when the experience of growing up white was anything like the experience of growing up black. It didn’t go anywhere; it’s just a little harder these days to ignore that it has always been a lie. And when Rudy Giuliani repeated that lie, the crowd roared as loud as they did at anything all night.

And it went on from there. He is good at this sort of thing, I admit. He gets his audience cheering. His audience, I should say—I can’t imagine anyone outside the Conservative noetic field responding to his spittle-flecked demands for unconditional victory over Islamic extremist terrorism and his rictus-grinned warning that “There is no next election; this is it!” with anything other than perplexed disgust and a determination to avoid ever seeing him or hearing his voice again. Ugh. If I felt threatened by Sherriff Clarke’s speech, I was absolutely repulsed by Rudy Giuliani’s.

Then we went to a complete change of tone. The candidate himself walked in (with an over-the-top theatrical flourish that was miles less ridiculous than Bill Clinton’s 2000 corridor walk) to introduce his wife, which he did with a single sentence: “It is my great honor to present the next First Lady of the United States, my wife, an amazing mother and an incredible woman, Melania Trump.” That was it. There was no video biography with images of the two of them together, there was no biographical introduction, just that single sentence. Very odd. And then the speech itself was entirely devoid of the sort of cute anecdote or personal story that makes a speech from the candidate’s spouse or child memorable. I don’t know what it is about this candidate—Rudy Giuliani said that he was going to violate his promise of confidentiality to tell us about some of the things that Donald Trump had done for the city of New York, but then didn’t actually tell us any specifics at all. Melania Trump didn’t talk about how she met her husband, or what initially attracted her to the millionaire, or what the real man is like when the cameras are off. She talked very briefly about her parents and her sister, but didn’t tell any anecdotes about them, either. She mentioned the candidate’s parents, siblings and children, and said “ There is a great deal of love in the Trump family. That is our bond and that is our strength.” Which is lovely, but not really memorable. She talked about how persistent her husband was, willing to keep working for years just to get a project started, but she didn’t name any actual project. I’m sure there are such projects as she alluded to, or there are projects that could be described that way, anyway, and presumably she knows their names, but we don’t.

That said, other than the anodyne lack of specifics and a certain wide-eyed facial expression that read to me as stage fright, I thought it was a pretty good speech. Pleasant, dull, inoffensive, human. Nothing about it appeared liable to make anyone think ill of the candidate, and if many of us thought uncharitably that she was a vacuous bit of fluff chosen to look good on his arm, I don’t think that would turn a whole lot of people off. And I should clarify that I know nothing about her, and expect that she is both cleverer and harder-working than I am. I know nothing about the job of fashion model but it can’t be easy to rise in that field. Still, even holding to a stereotype of dimwittery, it pretty much went well. The crowd in the hall liked it, the immediate response on twitter and social media was largely appreciative. Success.

And then the mood changed back entirely, with Michael Flynn’s speech. This was another angry, hectoring speech not unlike Rudy Giuliani’s, only delivered with less skill. Of course, he had to contend with the delegates heading back to the hotel for the night, as the showpiece was over, but still, his broken-rhythm awkwardness was noticeable. I disliked his emphasis on crushing our enemies: “America does not back down from anyone or anything.” It’s the kind of resolve-based thinking that I associate with the neocons and their disastrous adventuring under Our Previous President. The chants of “Lock Her Up! Lock Her Up!” were ugly as well, as was his admonition “Crooked Hillary Clinton, leave this race now!” The rest of the stuff was a greatest hits of talk-radio nonsense (exceptionalism, bowing, apologies, political correctness, bathrooms, Benghazi of course and the email server, red lines, refusal to name our enemies, etcetera etcetera) combined with a withering contempt for Our Only President and everyone connected with him. It was exhausting to listen to… although it was also very late at that point, which may have influenced my mood as well.

And then I shut it off and went to bed. I kinda wanted to hear Senator Ernst, who started off promisingly, but I was tired and cranky and all done.

We’re a few minutes away from the opening of Day Two, and I will probably listen to at least a portion of the afternoon session, but I have to say I’m feeling a lot less expansively patriotic than I was at five o’clock yesterday.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Commenting to add—I went back and watched Rep. Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos Duffy, who were, I thought, pretty good. I can imagine a big future, there.

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